Yu Minhong: The godfather of overseas study
Almost every student in China who wants to study overseas knows Yu Minhong’s name. Nicknamed the “godfather of overseas study”, Yu’s popularity is largely due to the success of the New Oriental Education and Technology Group, originally Beijing New Oriental School.
The company started by offering intensive training for students planning to go abroad via the Test of English as a Foreign Language and the Graduate Record Examinations. The 56-year-old Yu serves as its founder and chairman.
Despite his enormous success, Yu looks ordinary, dressing casually in T-shirts and jeans, and wearing sneakers.
The son of a farmer in Jiangsu province, East China, Yu failed the
gaokao, the national college entrance exam twice because of low scores in English. However, he was finally accepted by the Western Languages Department of the prestigious Peking University in 1980.
But his acceptance by PKU was not the end of his academic troubles. In his junior year, he contracted pneumonia and had to take a 12-month break from his studies.
After graduating from PKU in 1985, Yu became a teacher there. “I was proud because the university was so famous,” he said.
Back in the 1980s, when the reform and opening-up policy was in its infancy, there was a craze among top university graduates to pursue further study overseas.
Like many of his peers, Yu wanted to pursue the “American dream” after graduation, but his application for a United States’ entry visa was repeatedly rebuffed. The problem was eventually resolved, and after three years, he was accepted by a university in the US. However, he was unable to get a scholarship, and the small salary he earned by teaching English at PKU was not enough to cover his tuition fees.
To earn enough money to study abroad, Yu began teaching students how to pass the TOEFL exam in a class run outside of PKU.
However, PKU officials regarded the class as a distraction from his job, so they disciplined Yu and announced his punishment over the campus radio station.
In 1991, after working there for six years, Yu quit PKU and started his adventure outside the ivory tower.
After leaving, Yu decided to open an English school.
In November 1993, Yu pasted advertisements in the streets of Beijing’s Haidian district to promote his new venture.
“I drove a small, second-hand van to transport everything a school would need. I had only two staff members. There were just a desk and a few chairs in the rented bungalow that served as a classroom,” he said.
Yu’s persistence, humor and unique teaching style won him great popularity among students who wanted to study abroad, and within a year he had earned enough money to pay for his tuition in the US.
“But I was reluctant to leave the school as it had more than 2,000 students. I found it a promising career as the number of students rose constantly,” he recalled.
To expand, Yu traveled to the US and Canada to persuade two old friends, Xu Xiaoping and Wang Qiang, to join the school.
In September 2006, New Oriental Education and Technology Group listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
By the end of August, the company, which employs 30,300 teachers at 88 schools in 76 cities, had trained around 38 million students.
“Some people think New Oriental lacks the recognition of PKU or Tsinghua University, which have over time earned the respect of the public and support from the government. They think we act only as an assistant to the public education system,” Yu said.
“New Oriental has always served as a bridge builder, sending out students and welcoming them back. When you send talented people abroad, they bring essential knowledge back to make the country better and stronger.”
Although Yu has traveled overseas many times for business trips, he still regrets not taking the opportunity to study abroad.
“I think I will go to a top university in the US as a visiting scholar when I retire, since going abroad to study has always been my dream.”
Yu Minhong delivers a speech to freshmen at Dalian Maritime University in Liaoning province last year.